Relevant Stand-Up Meetings

The stand-up meeting has long been used by the military (e.g., roll-call) to account for and synchronize troops.

Meetings should last as long as needed. No longer.

Nobody schedules a “lunch hour” and then eats nonstop for the full hour, dropping his fork at the 60th minute, with no regard whatsoever to the amount of food consumed. Yet this is the way every meeting works.
~Skip and Dan Heath

The primary motivation behind a stand-up is to apply a force (gravity) to keep the meeting short — and with any luck, relevant.

Unchecked, a meeting will fill up whatever time is allotted to it.

Out-of-the-box, the familiar Scrum prescription for the Daily Scrum is to tell the team:

  • What I did yesterday;
  • What I’ll do today; and
  • What (if anything) I am blocked by…

Please don’t let that box you in!

Regrettably, an under-used option is:

  • I pass.  — I graciously cede my time to a teammate.

Be honest. If you’ve got nadda, simply pass. Most teammates will gladly give you permission to shut your pie hole.

Most of us have stood through painfully irrelevant stand-up meetings. Why are they irrelevant?

For starters, forget about the Scrum prescription, I don’t give a rip what you did yesterday — unless it impacts me today. Further, I am guessing most of us despise the self-congratulatory tone people use while verbally bullet-pointing all of the story points they burned down yesterday. It’s irrelevant. What the hell is a story point any way, and why do I care?

Stand-ups also become irrelevant when there’s no highly visible, low-tech story wall to supplement our individual narratives — when most of the team intelligence is obscured in project tracking software, or in a rarely visited Wiki (my apologies to visionary Ward Cunningham), or worse, neatly tucked away in SharePoint.

When the stand-up become a status meeting, rather than an impact meeting, it loses relevance.

If the purpose is simply a status meeting, then lets insist everyone who wants to give a status update do isometric wall-sits while they regale bored team-members with yesterday’s accomplishments.

Over the past decade the stand-up meeting, with varying degrees of success, has become one of the hallmarks of Agile teams. The purpose is to synchronize team thinking and to share a commitment to the tasks at hand. A Scrum, or a huddle, metaphor or not, is to

  • Set direction and 
  • Focus on the next play.

I don’t have a prescription for stand-ups. Nor do I believe in prescriptions. Like all process minutiae, the best approach is context-dependent.

While I always hope for something wildly informative to tell my teammates, it rarely happens. So when it is coming around to my turn to speak, I think about

  • What is most crucial for the team to know?
  • How might something I did impact my teammates? 
  • Will my tasks today involve other teammates?
  • Is a teammate dependent on me to complete something?
  • Should I pass?

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